HIV Ireland has today welcomed the publication of data which shows that, despite a significant increase in newly notified cases of HIV in Ireland, the number of first-time diagnoses has fallen compared to pre-pandemic levels. New figures for 2022, published today (Nov 7th) by the Health Protection Surveillance Centre, outline a sharp rise in new notifications compared to 2019, the last year not impacted by the disruption to data collection caused by the Covid-19 pandemic.
Overall, there was a 68% (884) increase in new notifications of HIV compared to 2019 (527), with first-time diagnoses accounting for 20% of all cases. Compared to pre-pandemic years, the number of first-time diagnoses has fallen by 9%.
Speaking following publication of the data, HIV Ireland Executive Director Mr Stephen O’Hare said, “Despite a worrying rise in overall case numbers, the continued fall in the number of first-time diagnoses compared to pre-covid years highlighted in this new data represents something of a ‘silver lining’.”
“Ireland has committed to eliminating first-time diagnoses of HIV by 2030 in line with international targets,” continued Mr O’Hare. “We are hopeful that increased availability of clinic and community-based testing, coupled with the new initiatives, such as free HIV and STI self-testing services, and the continued roll out of the national PrEP programme, are proving effective contributors to this visible trend,” continued Mr O’Hare.
Similar trends emerge among specific groups. Gay, bisexual and other men who have sex with men (gbMSM) remain the key population group affected by HIV in Ireland, accounting for 58% of first-time diagnoses in 2022. The report shows that 67% of HIV diagnoses among gbMSM in 2022 were in people previously diagnosed with HIV outside Ireland, while first-time diagnosis accounted for 28%. This indicates an increase of 75% among gbMSM with a previous diagnosis of HIV outside Ireland compared to 2019. The rate of first-time diagnoses in 2022 in gbMSM was 11% lower than the rate in 2019 and 36% lower than the peak in 2015.
Heterosexuals accounted for 35% of HIV diagnoses in 2022 with 75% of HIV diagnoses in people who were previously diagnosed with HIV outside Ireland and 19% among people with a first-time diagnosis. Compared to 2019, this shows a large increase of 233% in HIV diagnoses in 2022 among heterosexuals with a previous diagnosis of HIV outside Ireland, while the number of first-time diagnoses decreased by 19%.
The report also found a considerable increase on 107% in diagnoses of HIV in heterosexual females in 2022 compared to 2019. While the rate in females (11.4 in 100,000) nearly doubled compared to 2019, the rate in males increased by less than 50% (23 per 100,000). A small increase in the number of cases (5) among people who identified as transgender were also recorded.
Given the significant increase among women and trans people, Mr O’Hare noted: “The development of bespoke community-based services to support women and trans people living with, and impacted by, HIV should be a key priority in the development of Ireland’s new National Sexual Health Strategy. In this regard, the significant uptake of self-testing through the HSE’s home testing initiative, particularly among women, is to be welcomed.” “There remains room,” he added “ for more targeted gender specific and community-led approaches across the island.”
Reflecting on the role of HIV-related stigma in preventing more people from accessing testing and treatment services, leading in some cases to late diagnoses, and the negative personal impact on people already living with HIV, Mr O’Hare said “The publication of the data coincides with the run up to World AIDS Day, which takes place each year on 1 December. Given the significant increase in the number of people living with HIV and linking to care in Ireland, almost 900 in this report, every effort must be made to ensure a meaningful end to stigma and shame, both in the provision of services and among those impacted by HIV.”
“This year, the WHO reconfirmed that people living with HIV, on effective treatment, and who have achieved an undetectable viral load, cannot pass on the virus” added Mr O’Hare. In other words, there is zero risk.” “Concrete measures to eliminate outdated attitudes which unfairly stigmatise and shame people, including widespread information, education and training initiatives,” he continued, “must be utilised, in partnership with key stakeholders, across services and across society.”
Notes for Editors
For interviews contact Stephen O’Hare, Executive Director, HIV Ireland, Email: firstname.lastname@example.org Tel: 085 711 26 35
The report HIV in Ireland: Latest trends to end 2022, by Health Protection Surveillance Centre is available to download here: 2022 Reports – Health Protection Surveillance Centre (hpsc.ie)
The report HIV-related Stigma in Healthcare Settings in Ireland, by Dr Elena Vaughan is available to download here: https://aran.library.nuigalway.ie/handle/10379/17830
World Health Organization. (2023). The role of HIV viral suppression in improving individual health and reducing transmission: policy brief. World Health Organization. https://iris.who.int/handle/10665/360860